The Tomato Consommé.
Please kindly ignore the fact that the tomatoes in the back are about to burst into flames. That just means they’re *that* ripe and delicious.
Mythical, magical, wonderful tomato consommé.
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I’ve been waiting until the height of the tomato season to give this dish my first attempt, but man if I haven’t read about it everywhere. A consommé is one of the critical skills taught to all first year students at the CIA (that’s the culinary institute, not the intelligence one – although, maybe we’d make a few more friends internationally if we started teaching some of our boys how to make a mean soup). As I read through Michael Ruhlman’s book, The Making of a Chef, it was mentioned countless times. The delicacy of maintaining your raft, the importance of the clarity of your consommé, the power of the flavors of the clarified soup. I was intrigued at the complexity of the dish, at the science behind it.
And then I had my first taste of a tomato consommé at the Slow Food Annual Farm Dinner about a month ago. Heavenly. Incredible. It’s like a soup that takes a short-cut through your taste buds and goes immediately to the receptors in your brain and screams TOMATO! – that’s how powerful the flavor is. But even then it’s not overwhelming. It is amazing.
So I set my sights on Summer Fest 2010 week five – tomatoes. This would be my moment. My first real attempt at a tomato consommé.
At this point I realize you may think I’m getting a bit dramatic, but I assure you it is fully warranted. This is a labor and ingredient intensive dish, and in creating it you *will* be working some serious magic in the kitchen. Though I approached it with a degree of trepidation myself, there is no real reason to be afraid… and your effort will reward you in spades. Assuming that that’s what you want, you know, spades. Personally I’ve never felt a great need for spades, but I’m always getting rewarded with them. Always thought it was kind of weird. Speaking of which, if you need a spade – give me a call. I’m your man.
Anyway. Let’s making some freakin good-ass soup.
I used the Epicurious recipe as my base for this, really only made a couple small substitutions with some herbs and such.
|ESTIMATED FOOD MILES
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Chill time: 2-3 hours
These are very rough estimates. I made the consommé while I was preparing a dinner so I had a number of other things going, but if you focused on it solely you could get it done in an hour to an hour and a half. It does require your attention, though, so try not to get too crazy.
You will need 1 large stock pot, 1 smaller stock pot or large sauce pan, and a sieve, or a chinois if you’ve got it.
- 5 lbs fresh, wonderful, luscious tomatoes – the best you can get
- 2 large onions
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1-2 lbs fresh fennel
- 2 tbsp fresh basil
- 2 tbsp fresh tarragon
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 8 egg whites
- 1/2 cup ice, lightly crushed if cubes are large
- a large handful of cherry or grape tomatoes for garnish, sliced or halved lengthwise
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
Yes, that’s a massive amount of egg whites. I know. And the whites aren’t used in the final dish, instead it’s a tool for clarification. I reserved the egg yolks in a mason jar and used them for breakfast the next day to minimize waste. Make sure you know where your eggs are coming from and are aware of the massive egg recall that’s gonig on right now.
Okay, so first step is to coarsely chop your onions, garlic, and fennel. Reserve a few fronds of fennel for garnish, but toss the rest – along with onions and garlic – into a large stock pot with olive oil, and soften it all up over medium heat for about 12-15 minutes.
While the stock pot is warming up, coarsely chop up your tomatoes and puree in a food processor. Add puree to onion mixture, toss with sea salt and half of your pepper.
Simmer tomato puree in onions, garlic, and fennel on medium heat about 20 minutes.
Next, pour the tomato mixture through a sieve or a chinoise (I want one so bad), into a second pot.
Now that the mixture is in the second pot, you need to let it cool. You can accelerate this by putting it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes or so, or just leave it on the stove for awhile. The reason behind this is that you are soon going to put the egg whites into the mixture and you need them all to heat up together, concurrently, for it to cook properly. If you put the egg whites into a hot tomato mixture they will cook immediately.
So here’s what’s so cool about this dish. When you add the egg whites to the tomato mixture, they are going to sink to the bottom of the pan and slowly start to cook. As they cook, they will rise up through the soup, and as the proteins in the egg whites bind together they will clarify the soup and bring everything but the strong flavor of the tomatoes up to the top of the pot with them. This will then form a raft on the top layer of the soup, while underneath it continues to be clarified as it cooks.
Once the tomato mixture has cooled, put the egg whites into a separate bowl with the crushed ice (don’t use full cubes), herbs, salt, and remaining pepper. Whisk the whites into a bubbly froth, then quickly add to the tomato mixture. Whisk vigorously in the mixture a few times, then let it heat up to a simmer.
Because of the delicacy of the raft, and the importance that it is maintained and doesn’t break apart (if it breaks apart it will all mix up with the soup), you want to bring it up to a simmer very slowly. Keep a close eye on it. Once the raft is substantial, break a little hole in it like in the picture below.
As the consommé simmers, you will see bubbles, foam, come up through your hole. Spoon it out with a ladle and discard. When the bubbles stop coming and the consommé looks clear underneath, then you’re ready to take it out.
Removing the consommé from underneath the raft is a delicate procedure. You want to break as little of the raft as possible, but you have to get underneath it to remove the liquid. I had read recently about a method that Michael Symon uses for his consommé where he takes a length of plastic tubing to siphon it out, thereby making only a very small break in the raft. Well, I tried this. Didn’t work. Couldn’t get a siphon going… I imagine it would have been more successful with a restaurant size stock pot because you’d have more to work with, but with my little sauce pan.. not so much.
Instead, I just enlarged my break a little bit more with a ladle and spooned it all out as gently as I could. Once you’ve removed all of the consommé from the pot, refrigerate it for 2-3 hours and serve chilled with a frond of fennel, and a slice or two of tomato. Discard the raft.
So mine went pretty well. It was still a bit cloudy (I would have clearly failed my CIA Skills exam), but for a first go I felt pretty good about it. And, cloudy or not, it was incredibly, amazingly delicious. Worth every minute of the effort.
I’d be lying if I said I’m going to make this regularly (though I would if I had the time), but for special occasions and guests it is a wonderful dish for the summertime. This has also put the idea of a corn consommé into my head, which – although I’ve never heard of or tasted one – I think could be really spectacular and I’m going to try to attempt it before the summer is out.
So what else is being posted for Summer Fest tomato week?
And if you haven’t already, take a moment to check out this fabulous tomato and corn pie or heirloom tomato stuffed with shrimp.